Author: Odaliska Almonte
A few weeks ago on the morning of Aug. 31, Robeson Confinement in Response to Violation (CRV) Center and Geo Reentry Services joined forces to make International Overdose Awareness Day a memorable occasion. What the staff didn’t know was that this event would become more impactful than they could have imagined.
Dedra Baucom, substance abuse counselor, coordinated with Ashley Oxendine, program director for Geo Reentry Services, to host the facility’s first Overdose Awareness Day.
“A lot of the guys that I counsel have mentioned losing someone due to overdose and how they are coping with their loss,” said Baucom. “This ignited the idea of providing the offenders with the opportunity to have some closure.”
Oxendine, having worked at the facility for almost eight years, welcomed the opportunity to take a different approach to reach offenders on a more personal level.
“Hearing about an offender leaving and overdosing wasn't something we heard a lot, but sadly, we heard it enough,” said Oxendine. “We knew we wanted to make this day memorable, but also something that offenders could relate to and possibly prevent them from becoming another statistic.”
Geo Reentry Services facilitates the group counseling for Robeson CRV’s Reentry Program, which includes substance abuse interventions.
As the plan took form, staff prepared different activities for the event, to culminate with a balloon release in memory of all those who have lost their battle with drugs. Some of these activities included offenders creating overdose awareness posters and balloon archways leading to their dorm dayrooms to symbolize "walking through the battle of addiction."
The team had to be resourceful with their time and budget while planning for the event. Baucom, being of a giving spirit, didn’t think it would be a problem to accomplish everything they wanted, especially since she donates every month towards a cause she is passionate about.
“I like making a contribution every month to something, and I thought this month [contributing to the event] would be my good deed,” Said Baucom, not realizing it would be more costly than she could afford.
Baucom had done her research and found a store that rented helium tanks for $75 and thought it would be sufficient to fill all the balloons needed for their event. The morning of the event, when Baucom went to rent the tank, she discovered they were out of stock.
“My heart sank; I couldn’t go back to the facility empty-handed,” said Baucom. “A lot of people were counting on this, and I especially didn’t want to let the offenders down.”
The store clerk mentioned that he had bigger tanks of helium, but these tanks cost $300—something Baucom could not afford.
“I pleaded with the clerk to help me out and explained where I worked and what I was planning on doing to help provide offenders some closure,” said Baucom. “I told him I couldn’t back out on my promise to the offenders since in their minds it is what they always expect from people.”
At that moment a man walked into the store and noticed that Baucom was wearing an Overdose Awareness T-shirt she had made for the day. She told him why she was wearing the shirt, the plan for the event at the facility and the dilemma surrounding the helium tank.
As Baucom made her final plea to the clerk, the man she was just talking to placed $300 on the counter. Surprised, Baucom looked back at the man with tears in her eyes and hugged him, thanking him profusely.
The good Samaritan told her a story of a close friend of his that had died from an overdose. He explained that he had been holding onto $300 from that friend for over a year, waiting for the perfect time to spend it. He said that at that moment when she was pleading with the clerk, he heard a small voice say to him, “This is the perfect time, it’s time to let it go now.”
Back at the facility, with balloons inflated and staff and offenders gathered in the yard, Baucom felt compelled to tell everyone the story of what transpired that morning.
“There was a shift in the atmosphere as I told the story,” said Baucom. “You could feel the sincerity in the heart of the participants, like a move of God, and the silence in the air as everyone prepared for the release.”
One by one, everyone who lost a child, parent or close friend to an overdose lined up to pick up a balloon to release. Everyone had the opportunity to write the names of their loved ones or poems on their balloon before the release.
“After 27 years in this profession, when you see things that touch an offender or move them to tears, it makes what I do feel like it’s not in vain and there’s hope for those individuals,” said Sherry Hinson, Associate Warden at Robeson CRV. “When you can have a meeting of the heart between staff and the offenders, it makes all the difference in the world.”
In the days following the balloon release, counselors and offenders went back to their sessions with a different perspective. For the offenders, it was a cathartic moment providing closure and helping them heal. For the counselors, it stressed how important it is to reach offenders on a deeper level as they work towards their release dates.
After the success of the first Overdose Awareness Day, everyone at the facility agreed to continue hosting the event for many years to come.